Most compelling war movie in years.
“HACKSAW RIDGE” is the directorial return for Mel Gibson in a gripping war story depicting the heroic acts of Army Medic Desmond Doss, a man who because of his beliefs could not wield a weapon and refused to kill. Something that quickly made him an outcast in his unit but when the Battle of Okinawa rages on and a vital section of land known as Hacksaw Ridge must be captured, Doss will save the lives of 75 wounded soldiers while in the line of fire, and act that garnered him a Medal of Honor.
This film stars; Andrew Garfield, Hugo Weaving, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Teresa Palmer and Luke Bracey. Now I was highly anticipating this one out of the many releases for the winter season and it did not disappoint. Mel Gibson, while I may not have particularly enjoyed his last two directed films, will say they did show quality. So, when I learned Gibson would be telling this amazing story of Army Medic Doss, I was excited to see what his vision for this saga would be.
What this film turned out to be was one of the best war movies I have seen in many years. The story takes place during WWII and specifically the Battle of Okinawa and a young Doss, coming from a troubled family, feels he needs to do something to help his country. Doss led a simple life, but one that was racked with events that would shape his beliefs. The story over the first hour does feel slow at times as it develops who this man was. But while it did move at a crawl in some scenes the information given was needed to convey why this man felt the way he did, and as the film progresses into the back half the knowledge of the character, gives more impact to his decisions once he is in the army.
Hugo Weaving was excellent as the father and he captures the feeling of a former soldier who turned to the bottle to deal with his demons from war, given PTSD was not often thought of if at all. The family dynamic build perfectly why Doss believed in what he did and it was extremely thought provoking.
The rest of the cast were all very good as well. Teresa Palmer was great as Doss’ wife, her and Garfield had some chemistry together which helped given the love story was focused on a little too much in the second-act. Worthington, Vaughn and even Luke Bracey were all fantastic, they felt believable in their roles and showed charisma in their performances, most notably Vince Vaughn who embodied the intense sergeant.
This story covers the saga of Doss’ life strategically with his family and early life conveyed, his hardships upon enlistment and refusing to carry a weapon, to his inevitable heroics in battle, and it was intriguing from start-to-finish. The torment Doss received for his differences were things that would have made any man crumble but he didn’t, he stood by his beliefs and this story depicts that with a respectful homage while not over doing it.
Once the battle sequences begin they never let up and it is visceral, gory, and violent. War is not glamorized in this film; it is shown as the ugly thing it is and it only creates more respect for the soldiers who had to face such barbaric conditions as they tried capture this treacherous ridge-line. Gibson’s direction was fantastic; he frames the shots perfectly to capture the settings and terrain the soldiers were up against and it had me frozen in my seat. The story sticks to the facts and nothing feels over embellished and with Gibson’s camerawork you are pulled into the battles with the soldiers and it gave me chills at times.
Saving the best for last I must speak on the performance of Andrew Garfield. To say it was excellent would be an understatement and with his portrayal he delivered the best performance of his career. Looking at the real Doss in interviews will show you that Garfield invested in this role, learned about the man he was playing, and took great efforts to make it as realistic as possible. He captured the determination, heartbreak, and bravely of the real man and Garfield did so in award worthy fashion.
This was an incredible, near one-of-a-kind human being, and his story being told in the way this film does it, is a true memorial to his actions. Seventy-five soldiers, left wounded in the battle field, with the enemy lurking all around them were saved by one solider. This one man pulling them from imminent death allowed them to return home, and he did it all without firing a single shot.
Time: 131 min
MPAA Rating: R (For intense prolonged realistically graphic sequences of war violence including grisly bloody images)